Tuesday, February 13, 2007

If you surrendered...

Today I found a quote by Toni Morrison (my favorite author and personal hero), that helped me realize why my American Literature classes have been so boring and lifeless lately. She writes, "If you surrendered to the air, you could ride it." But the air this semester has been cold and indifferent, and I haven't been willing to make myself vulnerable enough to surrender to it.

For the past two weeks in American Lit, I've been forcing my students to attempt a New Historicist reading of Huck Finn. "Why?" you ask? Because I like New Historicism, that's why. But I probably wouldn't have liked it in high school, and I can tell you that my students find it difficult, restrictive, and repetitive. So I'm going to gently let it go, and hopefully they're proficient enough with it that they will be able to use when and if they ever want to.

On the flip side, I've been loving my English 10 class lately because it's full of dramatic kids, and we're performing dramatic interpretations of Macbeth. I finally surrendered to their energy a little, so we're all riding along just fine. I think with my honors students I feel more pressure to familiarize them with every possible tool they'll need in their A.P. classes, and so their creative, fun sides get pushed aside too often. When I spend hours and hours lesson planning, I sometimes find that perfect, fun way to trick students into learning without their feeling a thing--much like an expert nurse gives a painless shot. And yes, it almost always centers on constructivist learning.

I'd like to surrender to the energy of my American Literature students and let them excel, but I just can't seem to tap into them this semester. Some of them seem to have no energy, and others shut me out. Some of them sit quietly and give me this look as if to say, "YOU figure it out. I'm full of undisclosed talents, but I'll be damned if I'm going to just come out and tell you about them. It's your job, lady, so step up already." But how do I begin?


Blogger Davis said...

I don't know, Kristin. I'm wondering if you can't get them to talk, then who can?

I hear many junior teachers frustrated with their apathy. I know that this is the year that their academic demands seem to get more rigorous, they are truly tired of school and feel graduation is still too far away, and what else? That is the mystery. If we are providing rich questions, ways to relate to their life, why do they disengage?

Have you asked them? I'd be curious to see the answer.

1:10 PM  
Blogger Karl Fisch said...

I agree with Michele - ask them. Maybe even just show them this post . . .

7:41 AM  
Blogger Lizzie A said...

Being a member of your second hour American Lit. class, I can tell you that this semester has been rough. Not really your class in general, but all the classes, and all the weather, and everything else. The weather is really bringing alot of us down, as well as the "crap-load" of homework from all directions. Most of the juniors are sleep deprived, sun-hungry, worked to the edge of our sanity, half (or more) crazy kids. So if you can't seem to "tap into" us, it is probably because we are all so out of it half the time that we aren't even tapped into ourselves. I don't think that helps at all, but it was worth a shot. If you want to know more about me, see my blog, you might understand more.

3:53 PM  
Blogger MollyG said...

I'm going to agree with the posts here and say that we are apathetic and tired. Regardless of how fun or valuable a class may be, some days it really feels like we would rather be anywhere else. We're at the point in the semester when it feels like we're stuck. We've been in school forever, it's still freezing outside, the homework is ever increasing and there is no end in sight. It is definitely not any fault of yours. THis is the point in the semester when I start spending my classes either sleeping or daydreaming about ways to escape. All I can suggest is maybe to try something totally different. It may not even be very productive. But after that, they'll be more excited to come to class and actually try in hopes of something interesting happening. A break in the boring schedule is welcome around this time of year.

3:53 PM  
Blogger JeffN said...

Hiya Ms. Kakos! I figured I'd write about this post of yours. This is a tough question to address. I personally have never felt so burned out and tired of school as I do right now. Yet, for some odd reason, I've never enjoyed it as much as I have this last month. Freshman year I was scared out of my mind and felt myself being worried a lot about the social aspect of school in addition to the learning. Sophomore year, I was excited not to be a freshman anymore but I was kind of tired of school and really just coasted through trying to beat the class, not necessarily soaking up as much of the cirriculum as I no doubt could have had I put on a less apathetic attitude. First semester of his year was really difficult mostly because my AP Chemistry class was so fast paced that it made every single one of my other classes feel unbearable and made me feel stressed, even if in reality that wasn't the case. And since the start of this semester, I've noticed a serious increase in the difficulty of the cirriculum in the courses I'm in, yet I've never been so interested in what I am studying. And I think a lot of that can be attributed to the fact that my life at school is currently in equilibrium. I understand everything that is going on in all of my classes and there aren't any tricky concepts that are bringing me down. Thus resulting in me feeling like yeah, I CAN learn this stuff for the sake of learning it and not just learning it for the tests and to get by. Which is a feeling that I've never had before.

I also have been paying a lot more attention to my friends and classmates this semester and have noticed something directly relating to this. It seems that when one class is overwhelming or there is some other extenuating circumstance occurring, the rest of a students life seems to be brought down with it. So for a sophomore who is in you American Lit Honors class and in Pre AP Chemistry (which many of them no doubt are), not understanding something in Chem can manifest itself into apathy or frustration in all other classes including yours. And it is seemingly rare that everything can be going right at one time. Currently we're exactly midway through this second semester and this is the time that reality begins to set in. Wow, I'm halfway there and some of my grades may not be where they need to be. Or, wow, i have less than a month and a half until AP exams and I don't remember the first semester cirriculum. And any other amount of stress inducing situations can inevitably lead to frustration and apathy in other areas of life.

So I don't really know where this all is going. But I think you should know that all of your hardwork and endless hours of planning do not go unnoticed. I remember last year and have no doubt that many times people in our class including myself felt apathetic and unwilling to work (especially right after ALIS), but I have never been in a class that has impacted me as much as American Lit Honors did last year. And although it may not seem like it, all the effort that teachers put into their classes does make a difference. It impacts someone, even if it may not seem like it and many times those who seem like they could care less often are those who are secretly taking the most out of it.

5:42 PM  
Blogger shamitap said...

Yeah, Ms. Kakos, I'd have to agree with Jeff--this semester just seems like SO MUCH is going on and one person's stress becomes everybody's stress. Only yesterday we had to plan a group project for English and one member of our group was having trouble finding free time to meet with us because of her busy schedule--we suggested some new plans for our project, got into and argument and let's just say things didn't end too well.
We're really trying to work around it, but I think it's just the amount of things kids are doing outside of school that makes it difficult to focus IN school. I really like Molly's suggestion of trying something different in class, even though it may not be educational, something that will win back their focus--I think I'd really like that as a student! Thanks for sharing your concern, it's good to know that teachers care!

6:26 PM  
Blogger Lizzie A said...

Ms. Kakos,
I was wondering if you have ever "met" new people on blogger. I have had the great fortune to have "met" two new people. One was a woman who found me, who seems to be a very interesting person who, though I don't actually know her can be a good person to get a comment from. The other person is one that I "found". I had been clicking the 'Next Blog' button, and seeing ideas for my blog when I came to one that was in French. I am taking French so I had to try to comment to see if they would understand me. She did, then commented on my blog saying that she will read it every day so whe can improve her english! So, now that you know about my experiences, I was just wondering if you had any! By the way, they think I am a 250 year old woman in high school!

9:41 AM  
Blogger MollyG said...

I think Jeff really hit it right on the nose.

Plus, I know I probably already said this, but you do a great job. We all adored your class last year, and I can only assume that your class this year adores it too. I still remember when you played that trick on us last year (I won't go into specifics in case you're planning it again). I told my friend at Heritage about it, and we quickly agreed that you were one of the most brilliant teachers ever. So worry not, all is well. Plus, it's spring again, that will surely bring up morales.

10:12 PM  

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